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Email Spam

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why do I get so much SPAM?

Who hasn't heard about SPAM, and I don't mean the kind we purchase from the store, although that sounds kind of good right now.... anyway, we are talking about E-mail SPAM!!!!, you know, that annoying mail we have no interest in, otherwise known as junk mail or unsolicited bulk mail.

We have all been a victim of these pesky messages; but are we aware of the dangers surrounding such mail? In this week’s article we are going to discuss: what is SPAM, why we get so much of it, the dangers, and I’ll share some helpful tips on how to protect yourself from this well-known issue.

We all have encountered E-mail SPAM at one point or another, but what exactly is E-mail SPAM? Well a simple way to put it would be; any mail you did not ask for that is usually sent in bulk from senders you do not recognize, can be considered as SPAM, and there can be a lot of it. The bottom line is; E-mail SPAM can become a huge problem for anyone with a public E-mail account.

Fun fact, according to Business Week magazine:

“In a single day in May [2003], No. 1 Internet service provider AOL Time Warner (AOL) blocked 2 billion spam messages -- 88 per subscriber -- from hitting its customers' e-mail accounts. Microsoft (MSFT), which operates No. 2 Internet service provider MSN plus e-mail service Hotmail, says it blocks an average of 2.4 billion spams per day. According to research firm Radicati Group in Palo Alto, Calif., spam is expected to account for 45% of the 10.9 trillion messages sent around the world in 2003”.

Now that's a fun fact from 2003, can you imagine what the numbers are like today? With other popular webmail service providers like Google’s G-mail with an estimated 425 million subscribers and counting, the number of daily SPAM has just begun.

So WHY ALL THE SPAM?? Well, for one, it is very easy and inexpensive to create. Let me paint you a better picture: lets’ say you have some trading cards that you will like to sell for $10 each, you decide to get the word out by sending e-mails to a few of your closest contacts advertising the cards with the subject line, “Mint sports trading cards for ONLY $10 each!” Inside your E-mail there is a link for those interested to see the actual cards and their condition. As a result of your emails, a few of your friends reply and you make $70. Now you are thinking “wow! I made $70 and I didn’t have to spend any money to send those E-mails”. You begin to wonder how much more persons would be interested in the cards, so you add a few more E-mail addresses, even enlisting some from friends and family. By the time you are finished hitting “send”, you may have made a good profit selling all your cards. Now you find yourself running around the house wondering what else you can sell. See, because spam is so easy and inexpensive to send, anyone can easily become a spammer, sometimes without even noticing. Have you ever forwarded an E-mail that you received and found interesting? It may not be interesting to those you sent it to, and in this case, it is considered spam / junk mail.

By now you would have noticed that spam can be a form of marketing. Big corporations use it all the time to get their products and service out there, other spammers use it for more malicious purposes like phishing and to send malicious code to PC’s.

That’s where the danger comes in. Whatever the reason, there is one question asked by everyone: how did they get my E-mail address? Just as easy as it is for spam to be sent, so it is for a spammer to obtain valid E-mail addresses. Ever heard about web harvesting? Well, this is one example of collecting dozens of E-mail addresses very quickly. It is done using tools such as web crawlers or spiders that scour popular sites searching for any text with the “@” character. Another method is newsgroups, blogs and discussion boards, these places hold tons of user E-mail addresses and it can be a gold mine for spammers. Spammers will sometimes guess a user’s address, I mean they already know your domain, so all they have to do is take a wild guess, send a test message to whatever E-mail address they come up with and once there isn’t a bounce back, then the E-mail address must be valid. Malware, spammers sometimes use viruses, worms, etc. to extract E-mail addresses from users’ computers.

The good old unsubscribe link is another way for the spammers to get your E-mail address, I know you are probably saying “but they already sent me the mail, so it’s obvious they have my address”, well they may have it, but using the unsubscribe link confirms it’s legit and still being used. “Chain” emails also provide an excellent source of addresses for spammers. You may not know this, but E-mail addresses are a traded commodity. Spammers can easily purchase CD’s containing thousands of E-mail addresses and there is a possibility your account can be among them. The list goes on and sometimes it seems there is no escaping it.

So if I can’t escape it, how can I at least protect myself from it? Well, there is no easy way of doing this, not with spammers coming up with new ideas every day and even finding ways to trick spam filters, but there are a few tricks you can try yourself.

  • Personally, I like to maintain two E-mail accounts. A private account used only for personal correspondence, and a public account used for registering on public forums, chat rooms and pretty much anything that I need an E-mail address for, but not willing to use my personal account. Also, don’t link your private account to your public, this means, don’t register your private as the secondary to your public.

  • Since spammers tend to use combinations of names, word, etc. try making your personal address difficult to guess.

  • One of the most obvious ways to protect yourself is to never respond to spam mail, when you do this, you are just verifying that the account is actually valid.

  • Do not click on ‘unsubscribe’ links in E-mails from unknown sources, as I mentioned earlier, this is a known method for spammers to verify your address is valid and the volume of spam is likely to increase.

  • Make sure that you are using the latest web browser version and that any security patches have been applied.

  • Use an anti-spam solution and only open E-mail accounts with provider who provides spam filtering.

  • If your private address has been discovered by spammers, change it. This may seem inconvenient, but the last thing you want is for spammers to be phishing your personal information.

  • Avoid forwarding emails, especially “chain” mails. If you feel you must, take a minute to delete previous recipients’ addresses.

There are many other solutions you can try, I urge you to do research into this well-known issue, and get smart about it. Stay safe and happy E-mailing.

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